It’s Time to Retire the Phrase: “Don’t Boil the Ocean”

November 11, 2019

By Adam Chapman, EyeForPharma on Mar 21, 2019

Everyone in business has heard the warning: “don’t boil the ocean.” In other words, when looking for a solution to a problem, don’t take on too much all at once or make the scope so big that it becomes difficult or even impossible to find an answer. Whether the phrase was first uttered by Will Rodgers, or Mark Twain, or Lewis Carroll (you can find all three named as sources), business people have adopted it as a universal truth, and we’ve been stuck with it ever since. Now, it’s time to get unstuck and retire the phrase altogether, because when it comes to problem-solving, “don’t boil the ocean” is terrible advice.

In business, the phrase suggests that you should keep the scope of your problem-solving narrow, focus on smaller bits at a time rather than the whole, and not get too wrapped up in details across a broad array of considerations. However, when it comes to solving big problems in business, the opposite is true. In order to solve your biggest, most complex problems, you must boil the ocean.

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